Aurality and COVID-19


Aurality and COVID-19
Ryan McCormack

This article is part of the “Emerging Issues” section of Music Research Annual. Articles in this section of the journal present critical analyses of topics that are beginning to attract scholarly attention and point ways forward for new music research.

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Abstract. COVID-19’s profound impact on the aural landscape goes beyond the silence of urban locales under quarantine, the sonic reemergence of nature, or the substantial alterations of both personal and collective listening habits in everyday life. The author utilizes a mix of sound studies, Continental philosophy, and journalistic accounts to contend that COVID-19 has also cast aurality as the quintessential epistemological device through which the virus has been conceptualized and experienced. In establishing the viability of this argument he weaves through three distinct critical junctures, moving in scope from infinitesimal to immeasurable. The first is to argue that the in-itself of COVID-19 resists any easy recourse to typical visualist paradigms of representation, and can thus only be experienced through abstract traces that primarily engage with the ear. The second contends that the experience of mass social isolation created a new and unexpected heuristic efficacy for the concept of hearing-oneself-speak through the inner voice, which is traced through the writings of Edmund Husserl, Jacques Derrida, and Plato. The third connects the inner voice of quarantine with the summer of protest that emerged in response to the death of George Floyd. Arguing that the inner voice was instrumental in the development and performance of an ethical listening with regard to the summer of protest, it presents a paradox where the efficacy of this ethical listening required the intervention of a pandemic that has brought death and suffering to millions.

How to cite this article: McCormack, Ryan. 2021. “Aurality and COVID-19.” Music Research Annual 2: 1–21.

About the author: Ryan McCormack is an independent scholar based in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has previously taught musicology and ethnomusicology courses at Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas; the University of Tennessee; and Tusculum University. In addition to his work in sound studies, he has written on jazz historiography, popular music in communist Bulgaria, and the historical and metaphysical connections between sound and statuary. His work has appeared in the journals Critical Studies in Improvisation, TDR: The Drama Review, and Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, as well as in his book The Sculpted Ear: Aurality and Statuary in the West.

ISSN 2563-7290